The Full Monty at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Seeing the nifty national touring company of The Full Monty at the 5th Avenue last week, I couldn't help pondering why this terrific show closed on Broadway after a decent but unremarkable run. For this writer's money, The Full Monty is as good a show as Broadway has seen in the last ten years, and it is well-represented in this touring edition.
Based on the popular film, which was set in England, book writer par-excellence Terrence McNally switched the locale from Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York, while retaining the essence and edge of the original film. Composer-lyricist David Yazbek musicalized all the right moments to help spin the tale of six unemployed and rather ungainly steelworkers who conspire to make some cash by letting it all hang out ala Chippendales male strippers. Jack O'Brien's jaunty direction and Jerry Mitchell's sassy, brassy, and oh yeah, SEXY choreography are replicated with the utmost fidelity in this handsome tour. And if the principal male characters aren't quite as satisfyingly diverse looking a bunch as their Broadway counterparts, they are just as multi-talented.
Christian Anderson is right on the mark as the group's mastermind, divorcee Jerry Lukowski, shining in his comic moments (the darkly comic trio "Big Ass Rock" with cohorts Dave and Malcolm) as effortlessly as he does in his haunting solo ballad "Breeze Off the River." As his portly best buddy Dave, Michael J. Todaro may not look as paunchy as references to his character might suggest, but he is sweet and adorably zany, especially on his duet "You Rule My World", in tandem with Robert Westenberg's (see David's interview with Robert Westenberg) tightly wound Harold, a role which the Broadway vet plays with tremendous brio. Cleavant Derricks is just the right "Big Black Man" for the job as the older but still hip fellow somewhat misleadingly known as Horse. Derricks was a wow some two decades ago as one of the original male leads in Dreamgirls, and he remains so in this role. Geoffrey Naufts as Malcolm, the mama's boy, and Christopher J. Hanke as the Donald O'Connor obsessed Ethan are both comic charmers as their characters slowly realize their infatuation with each other, and their voices blend well on the touching duet ballad "You Walk With Me." On opening night, the role of Jerry's supportive son Nathan was well played by young Brett Murray (alternating in the role with Aaron Nutter).
McNally's canniest original invention for the stage version of The Full Monty is the character of Jeanette, a still spry senior citizen piano player who shows up to help the boys rehearse their strip show. The late, great character actress Kathleen Freeman owned this role on Broadway, so it is no small compliment to say that Carol Woods makes the role her own and rocks the house with "Jeanette's Showbiz Number" as rousingly as she did "Broadway Baby" in the recent Broadway revival of Follies. Whitney Allen is warmly believable as Jerry's likable ex-wife Pam, Heidi Blickenstaff is deliciously brassy as Harold's spoiled wife Vicki, and Jennifer Naimo shines as Dave's supportive wife Georgie.
Mitchell's choreography is highlighted not only by the big "Let It Go" finale (and for the uninitiated, yes they do!), but also by the dynamic act 1 closing "Michael Jordan's Ball" and the achingly funny fantasy number "The Goods." On the musical side, conductor Ben Whiteley leads an accomplished orchestra (largely made up of Seattle musicians) that rarely overwhelms the singers or their lyrics. John Arnone's glossily handsome scenic design, Howell Binkley's excellent lighting design and Robert Morgan's suitable and sometimes-naughty costumes are well preserved here.
The appreciative full house at The Full Monty's Seattle opening will undoubtedly spread the word that this is an utterly engaging adult musical, well worth a first look, but unlike many a touring company that has come through Seattle, worth seeing all over again.
The Full Monty runs Tuesday-Sunday through Dec. 8 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. For more information on-line go to www.5thavenuetheatre.org.